Palmetto Carriage Works has been the family business since general manager Tommy Doyle was just five years old.
“The rest is history. I’ve worked here, I mean, 1st grade, I was houghing water to water the animals and then right on through high school,” says Doyle, whose father, siblings, and relatives work alongside him to this day. “I was lucky that right out of high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and came to work. And, hell, it’s been 30 years.”
As much as the decades have flown by, the global pandemic has made the past few months feel a lot longer and tougher.
“It was roughly 10 weeks we were out of the game. The hardest thing for me is we ended up laying off 84 people right between March 17 and 20 or so. People who work here have been so committed to me and I feel that same commitment back to them. I can tell you the lowest feeling for me was when I had to load the last two animals to go in the trailer to empty the barn. But it was a great sense of joy when I got that email at 9 o’clock at night saying that we were cleared to go.”
Doyle worked closely with the town of Charleston and the Charleston Visitors Bureau to be cleared to return to the road. 10 employees have been brought back, with four returning at the moment on a part-time basis.
New measures to promote safety for the riders have also been put into place.
“I decided to do the plexiglass between each row. And the glass is actually removable. So groups that are together, they would have their own little compartment. Between each tour, the carriage gets a thorough wipe down. We bring them in groups, so we brought this group of two over, load them. Now we’ve got the next group. So we try to keep the groups separated from each other. The capacity of the carriage is limited to 10. Each group gets their own row or rows.”
The horses have always been the focal point of the business, and remain there in the midst of COVID-19.
“Their temperatures are taken on a daily basis. They’re fed every single day. They’re inspected twice a day. And when they’re not, when they’re showing symptoms, you can tell. And the fact that we’re hands on all the time and looking at them all the time, it gives us the benefit to head things off before we have any issues.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, Doyle operated at 20 percent, dropping to 10 percent during weekdays.
“At best, all I have is being optimistic at this point. And I’ve got great faith in the love that people have for Charleston and the draw that Charleston has that people are going to come back. I really, really believe that. Probably not as quick as I want, but I believe in due time, they will. Our projections for the summer are a little soft. Again – that’s just what I think – I don’t know. And I don’t think anybody really knows. I’m a lot more hopeful for the fall. I’m hopeful that we’ll see more people coming for the fall as airlines get back to normal, as all the hotels open. All the hotels aren’t even open now. We’re still a little bit early I think in our recovery.”
Read the original article by Greg Brzozowski at abcnews4.com here.